January 2, 2007

On Media: When a gift card really is an Original idea

I hate gift cards. Giving one is a great way to say, “I couldn’t bother getting a gift for you, so here’s $20. But you have to spend it at the Olive Garden.”Without doubt, though, the grandmothers of the world are thrilled. The colorful little cards surely eliminate the top worry on their Christmas list. No wrapping, no fuss. Smiling faces.But even I must admit the gift card has quickly established itself as the most-received Christmas gift. You’ve probably got one in your wallet right now. I’ve got two burning a hole in my pocket, rewards from Discover Card and BP for using their cards.And I’d bet several LEO readers received one of the new Louisville Originals card as a gift. No organization got a bigger gift card lift than the group of local restaurants, which drummed up an amazing amount of business in the two weeks before Christmas.The group struck a deal to offer the cards, which are honored at any of 52 member restaurants, distinctive places like Artemisia, Napa River Grill and Vincenzo’s. (Note: It’s hard to get consensus with this group, and notable dining spots Jack Fry’s, Lilly’s and Porcini opted out.) The deal came together just in time to offer the cards online on Dec. 11. It was a Monday.Kerry DeMuth, a board member who is managing the marketing for the Originals, sent out an e-mail blast to 4,000 addresses and also a press release touting the Originals gift card. By the time I visited her office four days later, sales were up to $15,000 (all online) and counting, with phones ringing off the hook. Several local media outlets, including The Courier-Journal, picked up the release.DeMuth figured out that while online sales were great, a retail outlet was needed to keep up with demand. While selling them at member restaurants seems to make sense, it wasn’t technologically possible. So DeMuth put them in two ValuMarkets (Hurstbourne and the Highlands) in the morning on Wednesday, Dec. 20. By 11 a.m., both stores were sold out. FedEx delivered new stock both Thursday and Friday, as quickly as the card supplier could print them. (DeMuth said the cards will be available at all five area ValuMarket stores this month.) “Our challenge has been getting inventory of cards,” she said. “We really underestimated the demand for the cards for such a short-notice, right-before-Christmas opportunity. We’ll have sold 2,500 in two weeks, and could have sold way more than that.”DeMuth said that in the 12 days before Christmas, purchases exceeded $67,000. The restaurants where they’re redeemed get 90 percent of the money, with the rest going to defray the costs of the program and to the Originals organization.Most national statistics show that in most gift card programs, 10 percent of the value purchased is never redeemed. In this case, that could mean more unexpected dollars to the bottom line. While DeMuth was surprised by the demand for the cards, she tried to explain what happened.“We are a major food town. People love to go out to eat here,” she said. “It’s such a fun gift to give, because there’s a choice of 50 restaurants to go to. And trying new restaurants is really fun.”Comings and goings at The C-JGet ready to say goodbye to some familiar bylines in The Courier-Journal. This month, Chris Poynter, who’s been with the paper for nearly a decade and was among the first to embrace the paper’s new technology, is leaving to work as the Mayor’s spokesperson for economic development.Poynter, who also develops downtown residential properties, said he’ll miss The C-J but couldn’t pass on the opportunity presented by the Mayor’s communications director, Chad Carlton. He’s taking a three-week vacation to Spain and reports to work at City Hall on Jan. 22.Kay Stewart, the primary beat reporter in the hotly contested 3rd District Congressional Race, is also leaving Sixth and Broadway. She’s finishing her second tenure at The C-J. Stewart was a reporter for 19 years before leaving for a job at Doe-Anderson, where she stayed for six years before returning to The C-J in 2004. Her last day was Friday; she’s going to work with a Frankfort firm, Government Strategies, and will initially be involved in the Ohio River Bridges Project.Both Poynter and Stewart said their departures have nothing to do with ongoing changes in the paper’s newsroom. In fact, both used the word “family” to describe their feelings for the place. Rick Redding’s blog, The ’Ville Voice (www.thevillevoice.com) covers local media and politics, among other things. Contact him at rick.redding@insightbb.com